October 23, 2020
I love food and it’s not a secret. I love to cook and on most weekends you can find me in my kitchen throwing together a couple of pots of soup and meal prepping for the week ahead. In the chaos of getting my children ready to go back to school, attending sporting events, and working long days I find it very important to be organized when it comes to dinner since it is one of the few times a day when my family is all together. I’ve noticed over the past several months that I find myself making meals that are ready to heat, as we share them with our parents. I often joke that I have turned into a Meals on Wheels service but the truth of the matter is that we have signed on to a different cause. We are officially now part of the Sandwich Generation.
Now, if you have never heard of the Sandwich Generation, I can assure you it’s not a group of people who live on turkey clubs or crave pastrami on rye. The Sandwich Generation refers to the group of people who are typically in their middle age, say 35 to 50, who are raising young children while providing care to their aging parents at the same time. Being a member of this club can take a huge emotional and financial toll on the caregivers themselves. It’s an art to balance the needs of one’s own children and immediate family with those of our elderly parents, but it’s also a costly endeavor to absorb if you are not prepared. Over the past twenty years there are five areas of goods and services that have increased in price at a faster pace than wages and that is not likely to change soon. They include childcare, college tuition, college textbooks, hospital care and medical care.
If you are one of the lucky people facing all of this at once, or anticipate you will participate in this club in the near future, there are steps you can take to help yourself now:
- Talk to your parents now. We may not all be lucky enough to be able to have this conversation with our parents in advance, but if you can you most definitely should. Ask your parents what their wishes are about how they prefer to be cared for. Know their medical directives and their end of life wishes. Ask them if they have completed their estate planning and if they have not talk to their financial advisor or your own to help them complete the process. If they are still healthy you may consider long term care insurance or an asset protection trust as part of their estate plan. The earlier you can plan ahead with them the more confidence you will have to help them over the long term.
- Have an honest conversation with yourself and speak with your siblings, if you have them. Being the caretaker of an adult is a big responsibility. Many of our aging parents have not properly prepared for the possibility of them needing care and wanting to stay at home. You will want to ask yourself if you are financially able to contribute to their cost of care and also, are you up to the task of executing on the assistance they may need. My sister and I always have joked that I will write the checks and she will be the hands-on help if and when the time comes for us to help our parents. She was a medical professional and has been exposed to things I have not been, and I know what my limitations are. We are very open about what we can and cannot do, and what we are actually willing to do. There is no shame in not being able to provide help with the normal activities of daily living, but being honest about it at the onset can potentially save you a lot of emotional grief as you navigate the process.
- Do not neglect your own planning. It is very easy to get wrapped up in taking care of our children and parents at the same time. Make you are not neglecting your own planning needs. It is important to keep your retirement savings on track and make sure your family is protected in case anything was to happen to you unexpectedly. While you’re at it, since we already know the cost of education has continually increased, make sure you are speaking with your financial advisor on how to prepare for those costs when your children are of age to go off to college.
- Guard against caregiver stress and fatigue. It can be very difficult the juggle the demands of young children, aging parents and work stress. The danger of burnout is very real and it happens all too often. Make sure you find time to spend doing something for yourself, even if it’s reading a book or taking a walk. Exercise has been a proven way to relieve stress and it’s an activity that can do together with your children as a family. Build a network of trusted friends you can rely on if you need help and maximize the time your children are also able to spend with your elderly parents so you can take care of all of them at the same time if needed.
My friends and I often send each other memes for entertainment because we are facing similar life issues. One of the frequented ones I happen to use may involve a hamster spinning off a wheel at a very fast pace. I am also a fan of the frazzled looking mom ones too! It’s funny, but it’s also very real and as part of the Sandwich Generation it’s important to maintain perspective and have a plan. Whether you find yourself there gradually over time or all of the sudden, know that your trusted professionals can help guide you through your own circumstances as well as those of your parents. Remember that you are no good to anyone if you are not good to yourself, and don’t be shy to take help when you need it. The members of this club are all in it together!
Iris Buczkowski is the founder of Birch Wealth Management (birchwealth.com). Original content provided by Iris is for educational purposes only and should not be construed as investment advice.